When you learn a family member or close friend is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it can be hard to know what action to take. It seems so obvious what the addict should do: stop using the substance that’s ruining their life! It may be frustrating that they can’t, and some family members see this as a fault in the addict’s personality. While these thoughts may seem logical, they represent a fundamental misunderstanding of addiction, and are counter-intuitive to the addict’s recovery. As the people closest to the addict, it’s crucial that you do whatever you can to help them and support their recovery. Here are some methods that will help you maximize your support for your loved one.
The first and most essential step is to get as educated as possible about addiction. It’s not just a series of bad choices and it’s not something an addict can stop if they want it enough. Addiction is a brain-altering disease. An addicted brain doesn’t feel pleasure the same way a healthy brain does—for many addicts, using is the only way they can feel pleasure, and to not use causes extreme discomfort. The more educated a person is about addiction, the more they can understand what their addicted loved one is going through, and how much they need their family’s support.
The second thing you can do is get the addicted person into drug addiction rehab. You can’t expect an addict to seek help on their own—they may do it, of course, but their health is too important to risk on a possibility. As soon as you see signs of addiction, talk to the addicted person about getting help. Waiting until they have hit “rock bottom” only gives the addict more time to damage their body and deepen their addiction. If you can’t convince your loved one to get treatment, roundup family and friends and hire an interventionist to conduct an intervention. With so many people worried about your loved one’s addiction, it will be unlikely that they will be able to honestly deny its existence for long. What’s especially important is that the addict knows you’re all acting out of love and care, and that you want what is best for them. Also, follow-through is a concern—an addict may publicly agree they need help but not actually get any. Making sure they follow up on these promises is a key part of the recovery process.
When your addicted loved one is undergoing treatment, their family should attend meetings as well, both with the addict and by themselves. Not only will this provide a way to get further educated about addiction, but it shows the addict that their family is committed to supporting them as they heal. Also, openly communicating thoughts and feelings during these meetings can clear the air about any lingering emotional pains the addiction caused the family, and allow the addict to make amends for what their disease made them do.
After treatment, an addict’s family is still on-duty as the first line of defense keeping the addict safe and healthy. A person in recovery needs new habits and a safe environment to make sustained sobriety a possibility. To provide this, arrange unusual activities or trips that will give your loved one something to enjoy while sober that isn’t associated in their memory with drug use. Also, it’s important that the addict lives in a drug-free area, so if anyone in your family uses drugs or drinks alcohol, they must either stop, or do it as far away as possible from the addict, so they do not see or know about it happening and want to join in. It’s also your responsibility to ensure that the recovering addict attends their outpatient or aftercare meetings. Patients who stop going to these meetings have drastically lower sobriety rates than those who attend regularly. Just because an addict has been clean for a long time and feels confident about their ability to abstain doesn’t mean it’s safe to stop treatment!
The Ridge’s drug addiction rehab programs support families and loved ones as well as patients. We provide family education, counseling and one-on-one sessions. Click here to learn more.
Although it’s difficult to accept, an addict’s family always has to be ready for a relapse. Addiction is never strictly “cured,” and all it takes is one moment of weakness after years of strength for the disease to make an unwelcome return. You have to understand that relapse isn’t the same as giving up on sobriety, nor does it mean the addict is too weak to commit to their health. It doesn’t mean that treatment has been worthless, either. Relapse is an unfortunate fact of this disease, and an addict needs love, care, and support during the darkest days of relapse just as they need it in the good times.
One simple but effective support method is to listen to the recovering addict. People struggling with addiction often retreat into themselves out of shame or fear, and don’t share how they feel with anyone. Giving them a safe, nonjudgmental way for them to vent their stresses, fears, and feelings helps them learn to trust opening up to other people again. Talking about their worries can help you know what kind of help they need most to stay sober. Also, articulating one’s feelings, especially for an addict who likely hasn’t done so for a long time, can reveal thoughts and feelings that they didn’t even know they had, offering possibilities for self-reflection and moments of profound insight.
Being part of an addict’s support system can feel like a full time job, and make no mistake, it takes a great deal of effort and energy. It’s important that you don’t grow resentful of your loved one for forcing these duties onto you. No one chooses to be an addict, and every addict wishes their disease would just disappear. Reality, unfortunately, won’t allow that. Addiction will last, and so must your support. So be sure to take time out for yourself from time to time. Al-Anon meetings offer support to families of addicts, letting them vent their frustrations and giving encouragement to stay committed to helping out their loved ones’ recoveries.
Being committed to an addict is exceedingly difficult work. At times it may seem hopeless and never ending, but remember: a strong, supportive family can be one of the most valuable assets an addict has in their journey to sobriety. Caring for them won’t be easy, but the health of your loved one is worth it.